Sales and on-field performance. Do they influence one another?

Part of the PILYTIX Series “Challenging Conventional Wisdom”: Sales and on-field performance. Do they influence one another?

Talk to most sales leaders in pro and collegiate sports and they will tell you with 100% certainty that sales and on-field performance are related. That is, it becomes more difficult to sell when the teams are struggling to win on the field of competition.

Most of these same sales leaders don’t stop there. It gets worse. The very perception of pending struggles makes selling an uphill battle: Star quarterback blows out a knee in the off-season? Ouch, there goes our sales numbers. Perennial All-Star first baseman gets shipped off for up and comers from another team’s farm system? They’re called “nobodies” because nobody buys tickets to see them play!

In every other article in this series, a clear data story provides incontrovertible proof that turns conventional sports sales logic upside down. However, we won’t use this post to argue against an aggregate correlation between on-field success and ticket demand. Plenty of data exists to show that reduced ticket and sponsorship demand accompanies less-than-stellar on-field performance.

So, that must be the end of the story, right?

Not so much.

Sales and on-field performance are strongly related. Demand, in fact, does tend to decrease in most cases during times of on field struggles. Of course, there are outliers. Other sociological factors such as local economics, demographics, weather, stadiums, media outlets, ticket price distribution and availability, concession prices, and the presence and performance of other pro sports teams may also significantly influence fan attendance – and explain the outliers:

So what’s the problem with acknowledging a basic truth – that poor on field performance depresses market demand?

Let’s start with this: It’s totally irrelevant to day-to-day sales and marketing operations. Successful sales leaders recognize that on field performance is something that they have zero control over, and therefore should have no bearing on how they build their sales strategies. Acknowledging uncontrollable events when discussing sales results usually represents a giant leap down a slippery slope toward excuses and away from sustainable business strategies that will hold up regardless of what happens on the field of competition. Successful leaders don’t blame poor sales results on what takes place on the field, floor, diamond or pitch. They understand that on field performance – just like economic recessions or bad weather is totally out of their control. Likewise, they tend not to give the team’s on field performance much of the credit after their team makes a deep playoff run or hoists a championship trophy.

So how do the best sales leaders weather storms brought on by uncontrollable events?

Prior to the advent of the Big Data revolution, sales leaders who wanted to hit aggressive sales goals during tough times had really only one option: work harder! Call more peopleHire more bodies. Work day and night. Tough times demand creative solutions. Hard work should never be dismissed as one component of an overall strategy. However, working smarter needs to be the focal point.

Most teams in professional and collegiate sports have been accumulating massive stockpiles of data on all the aspects of our sales process. They’ve invested massive sums of money to store, sort and visualize that data. But most teams have still not begun to harness the inherent power that resides in that data, or even built a data strategy.

The best sales leaders are partnering with their internal BI teams and external artificial intelligence providers to deeply learn about the patterns that dictate success and failure. They are efficiently targeting buyers who are more likely to purchase. Equipping their salespeople with tools to quickly win deals that should win and avoid wasting excessive time on deals that are trending toward losses. They are ensuring that their customer service staff understands which season ticket holders represent renewal risk earlier in the season while there is still time to put those clients in a bear hug and show them the unexpected value in their season ticket membership plans.

Sales and on-field performance are related, but quit making excuses

However, the conventional wisdom continues to lead some organizations down the wrong path. While its true that demand might fall in tough times, it doesn’t mean that sales should fall. As an industry, we can’t continue to make excuses.  Think about the nature of those excuses again. They all inherently suggest that sales success and failure is only a function of uncontrollable situations and not the finely tuned skills of sales and B.I. leaders. If that is the mindset, then ask yourself why you need sales and B.I. leaders anyway.